While growing up, Herself had a dachshund named Fritz. Technically, he was the family dog, but she likes to think that he was particularly fond of her. He would frequently make himself at home in her lap, aligning himself with her outstretched legs and resting his chin on her knee.
Fritz was dignified, serene, and thoughtful. A calming force, he would sit with Herself when she was upset, until she felt better due to his soothing presence. He enjoyed car rides and barked at motorcycles. He chased squirrels. In his later years, Herself would cook him his special hamburgers and add a bit of extra vegetable oil to the pan to aid his digestion. He enjoyed it.
The winter after I turned 11 encompassed a New England snowstorm that became known as The Blizzard of ’78. The first evening, my father fatefully proclaimed, “Oh, those are big flakes – they’ll stop soon.” As the precipitation moved into the next day, however, it was clear that omniscient Daddy might be wrong for the first time. Snow, snow and more snow, fast and hard. Schools and businesses were closed. Driving was prohibited. The world, it seemed, shut down.
Our house was perched two-thirds of the way up what seemed in our young minds to be an incredibly steep hill. To our enormous delight, the absence of any cars on the roads meant that we could use the street as a play area. It was truly a winter wonderland. Ensconced warmly in my brother’s hand-me-down snowsuit, I frolicked in the drifts and sped right down the middle of the street on my sled.
Eventually, businesses re-opened, although driving was still banned. One afternoon, my brother and I noticed a woman making her way slowly up our hill with some groceries. He and I sled down to her and offered to help drag the packages back to her house, and she delightedly accepted. We worked hard and proudly carried the brown paper bags into her kitchen for her, thrilled with our act of helpfulness. One of her family members entered the kitchen, and the woman thankfully proclaimed:
“These two nice boys helped bring the groceries home.”
My heart sank. I knew she was grateful. But couldn’t she tell I was a girl?
My brother and I left the woman’s house and went home to inform our parents of our good deed. Yet the telling wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. It was tainted by the woman’s innocent mistake about my gender.
Spring approached and the snow thawed somewhat. It was still chilly out, requiring jacket and hat, but still pleasant enough that I could put a leash on our elderly dachshund, Fritz, and take him for a stroll about the neighborhood. Fritz and I had just made our way past the Elementary School and were heading back up the hill towards our house when some kids appeared behind me. I did not know who they were. They taunted me, throwing tiny balls of leftover snow. One hit Fritz in the flank, and he yelped. I scooped him up in my arms and quickened my pace. The kids continued to hurl insults and snowballs after me.
And then, one of them called out my brother’s name.
Tears welled in my eyes as I shouted, “I’m not HIM!” over my shoulder. I sprinted home.
I had never been a particularly feminine child. I preferred stuffed animals to dolls. I enjoyed climbing trees. I disliked pretend tea parties. Yet after that winter, there grew within me a longing, quiet yet intense. I wanted a jacket that would help people to identify me properly as myself. As a girl.
Pink would have been nice.
It seemed so important, yet simultaneously so frivolous. My jacket was perfectly good; there was no reason to ask my parents to waste money. Most of all, though, I could not find it within myself to put into words why I wanted a different coat. I didn’t want to tell anyone about the errors other people had made, and about how much it had stung. To do so would be to relive the injuries, to reveal what bothered me most. So I kept quiet.
In a few more years, puberty provided some relief to my plight. I attempted to display the bit of cleavage I had developed. I was allowed to pierce my ears, and eventually, to wear a bit of lip gloss. I carried a purse. I worked hard to achieve the big hair so popular with teenage girls. I packed away the memories of those old misidentifications along with my worn stuffed animals.
After several weeks of struggling with writer's block, I've decided to begin a periodic feature - the Story of Yore. It will feature various anecdotes from my childhood. I hope you will be entertained.
The responses to my query on my FaceBook page have dictated that the first story will pertain to a secret desire for a pink jacket. I am working on it now; I am uncertain how long it will take to write. Stay tuned!
In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said, "Is it good, friend?" "It is bitter bitter," he answered; "But I like it Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart."
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself. He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant; And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears. Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God." And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy; To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
Herself was disheartened yesterday. She recently had a reminder that not all people are benevolent, and that even her own caring acts can be looked upon with suspicion. She has remembered similar happenings from the past -- occasions about which she has not thought for many years -- and feels discouraged and a tiny bit bitter. How hard it is, sometimes, to understand other people and what drives them to behave the way they do. Hidden motivations. Whispered questions masked behind false smiles. Insinuations and innuendos passed around like an illicit cigarette in the high school girls’ bathroom. Hurtful.
Her pea-in-a-pod friend came to the rescue, though, providing her with the valuable words she needed to hear:
"I know who I am and what I am about, and anyone who feels the need to question my integrity and speculate behind my back is someone whose opinion I have no room for in my life."
Amen, and thank you.
In the meanwhile, until she feels better, Herself will find consolation in her piano.
Herself keeps several of her favorite things in the drawer of her bedside table. One of them is the tiny one-piece suit in which she dressed each newborn Offspring for his or her respective trip home from the hospital. The suit has primary-colored boats, planes, and cars printed on it. Adorable.
The continued weather-related difficulties were quite, well, difficult. A very long weekend followed by another day off from school yesterday with city-wide water restrictions: "The public is asked to refrain from... showering, using dishwasher or clothes washing machines, or anything else that uses a large amount of water." Plus, a "boil your drinking water" advisory in place. Oh, dear. Nerves were frayed. All three Offspring were bored, twitchy, and annoyed.
The Offspring are all back in school today, with bottled water, and hopefully life will return to normal in due course. Herself is a bit frustrated at the moment, trying to catch up on all of the myriad things that fell behind during the Epic Storm, but she will get there. We will all get there.
Record-breaking cold has yielded three quite horrible days. The worst was yesterday: low natural gas pressure, so that heat was poor or nonexistent; rolling blackouts; frozen and burst pipes, resulting in no water but then suddenly too much water in all the wrong places upon thawing. Schools shut down for three days straight; businesses asked to conserve energy; Emergency Management in place. No internet access, either - although that seemed quite unimportant when all the infrastructure disintegrated.
Things have improved today, with the assistance of a plumber and reestablishment of natural gas, and there have been no further blackouts. The house will require a significant amount of repair work, but fortunately, things are not as bad as they could have been. It is once more possible to leave the house to go to the grocery store and the post office once more. The weather should improve over the weekend, mercifully, and then life will slowly return to normal. Thank goodness.
Behold, the baby sling. Herself carried all three Offspring in it in turn. It was the single-most useful item when the Offspring were little: she used it to transport them, to keep them safely nearby, to comfort them when they were tiny and cranky, and to cover them like a blanket when they slept. It protected her privacy when she nursed them while out and about. It gave her a free hand to hold a book to read to the elder Offspring when the younger required holding. It kept her treasured wee people physically close to her heart.
When Offspring the third was a toddler, he required frequent physical touch to maintain his composure. In response to his upstretched arms, Herself would ask him, "Do you want me to carry you?" and would then settle him into the sling. As he eventually learned to talk, he would spy the sling and request: "Carry-you me?"
NinjaHead resides with a muffin-baking woman known herein as Herself. Herself has a Beloved Husband, with whom she shares three nearly-grown Offspring. When she is not writing Things, Herself nurtures a visceral fondness for small furry creatures. The household menagerie, which has varied in size and composition over the years, presently contains a minuscule middle aged chihuahua, a most mild-mannered senior chihuahua, and a very small hamster who, due to the prominence of his gonads, seems to need trousers for decency.